Tesla Motor's Wonderer-in-Chief Elon Musk went on CNBC today to talk about how great his car company is doing, but what everyone really wanted to hear about was his mad genius idea to reinvent long-distance travel. All this week, Musk has talking up a radical transportation idea called the "Hyperloop," which he describes as a "cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table." It's basically an underground bullet train that, freed from pesky terrestrial concerns like weather, farm animals, and friction, would zoom people across the country in hours instead of days. Like the Segway of trains.
The best part about the Hyperloop is that, theoretically, the technology needed to build it already exists. (Superconducting electromagnets, basically.) All it would take to make it happen is, well, the will — and several boatloads of money. Musk, whose "other company" shoots things into space for money, probably believes he has both.
Sadly, the Hyperloop will never, ever happen. It's a brillant, pie-in-the-sky idea that the realities of politics and construction permits would render all but impossible. Even if the technology is perfect, we can barely build a train from Orlando-to-Tampa (using already obsolete technology), so there's no way California is going let anyone dig a five-hundred-mile-long tunnel under the San Andreas Fault. It's taken New York City a generation to break ground on its latest subway line, and will probably take another to finish it. This nation is terrible at new infrastructure and all the billionaire dreams in the world won't change that. (See also: the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, this collapsed bridge, etc.)